Yale Bulletin and Calendar

March 21, 2003|Volume 31, Number 22














Standing behind some of the offerings of the Look Your Best Basket at Yale are Ann Mattie, coordinator, volunteer Maryellen Reilly and Bonnie Indek, a social worker who coordinates the 'Look Good ... Feel Better' program for cancer patients.

In Focus: Yale Cancer Center

Programs aim to help cancer patients look and feel their best

Periodically, a room on Yale's medical campus is transformed into a beauty salon.

There, small groups of women converse and compliment each other's "makeovers" while trying out skin creams and makeup, sometimes passing around an assortment of differently styled wigs.

Equally important, they share stories and laugh.

The women's beauty treatments are offered free of charge as part of "Look Good ... Feel Better," a national program that helps cancer patients deal with changes in their appearance that occur as a result of the disease or as a side-effect of its treatment. The Yale Cancer Center co-sponsors the program in New Haven along with the American Cancer Society, the Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association Foundation, and the National Cosmetology Association. Beauty sessions are held about six times a year on the medical campus or another local site.

"Look Good ... Feel Better" is one of two Yale Cancer Center programs that help cancer patients cope with hair loss, skin changes and other physical and emotional changes related to cancer treatment. The center also offers the "Look Your Best Basket at Yale" (LYBBY), a service through which trained volunteers provide cancer patients with free turbans, caps, lip balms, moisturizers and educational materials with the goal of helping them feel better. LYBBY, started at Yale in 1996 as an offshoot of "Look Good ... Feel Better," was developed by Diane Erdos, R.N., M.S.N., formerly director of patient services at the Yale Cancer Center, who was also instrumental in establishing the "Look Good ... Feel Better" program at Yale more than a decade ago.

'Look Good ... Feel Better'

Bonnie Indeck, who has coordinated "Look Good ... Feel Better" at Yale for the past four years, says that while the program's focus is how women look on the outside, its benefits are much more than skin deep.

"The real focus of the program is self-image," says Indeck, a clinical instructor in internal medicine and a social worker who specializes in counseling individuals with cancer and their families. "We may talk about makeup or skin care, but what we are really talking about during these beauty sessions is how patients are feeling, how they are coping with their disease and how they are getting through it. It's about putting your best foot forward when you don't always feel like you can do that. It helps the women feel good about themselves."

In the two-hour sessions, professional cosmetologists provide tips to the women on how to apply creams and moisturizers to combat the dry skin that is a common side-effect of chemotherapy, how to put on makeup, and how accessories such as turbans, scarves and wigs can be used to hide thinning hair or bald heads.

"One of the reasons that makeup is important is because women on chemotherapy lose all of their facial hair, including their eyelashes and eyebrows," Indeck points out. "So one of the things the cosmetologists go over, for example, is how to pencil in eyebrows, showing the women how they can determine where the arch of the eyebrow should be."

The cosmetologists who volunteer their time in "Look Good ... Feel Better" have been trained to work with cancer patients and are all knowledgeable about, and sensitive to, common issues facing women in treatment for cancer, Indeck says.

Groups are purposely limited to about eight women per session to ensure that the participants are given individual attention and to foster an environment where they can get to know each other and gain a level of comfort. In addition to Indeck and a cosmetologist, a representative from the American Cancer Society is also on hand to offer information and support.

"Often in these sessions, everyone is laughing and talking," says Indeck. "The women share their feelings and ideas about things that have helped them cope with their treatment or things that haven't helped. There is often a lot of humor: One woman, for example, told a story about how she passed her wig under the doors of a public bathroom because someone wanted to try it on; another described how kids responded when she pulled off her wig while giving a talk in her daughter's classroom. Generally, everyone feels very secure in these gatherings."

For many of the women, the pampering they receive and the opportunity to share stories with each other is a confidence booster.

"A real benefit of 'Look Good ... Feel Better' is that it helps the women realize that they are not alone in what they are experiencing," explains Indeck. "It validates their feelings, and they come out feeling they have support."

According to the national "Look Good ... Feel Better" website, a survey of women with cancer showed that 69% said that keeping up their appearance helped them feel more confident in their ability to cope with cancer, and 86% said that looking attractive helps them feel better emotionally, even when they were not feeling well physically.

All of the participants receive a free, personally customized kit of makeup donated by cosmetic companies such as Lancôme, Avon, Estee Lauder, L'Oreal, Maybelline, Neutrogena, Revlon and other companies.

In addition to the sessions for adult women (age 17 and older), the Yale Cancer Center also cosponsors a "Look Good ... Feel Better" program for adolescents in treatment for cancer. A session for teens is generally held once a year, according to Connie Nicolosi, a clinical instructor in pediatrics and pediatric oncology social worker who leads the program.

"We hold a session for teens on a day when there is no school -- often on President's Day," Nicolosi says. "Approximately five adolescents participate in each session, and each one is given individual attention." The topics in these sessions are similar to the ones for adults, and include such practical advice as how to make a head covering by wrapping a tee-shirt.

The program is especially beneficial to teens because they are experiencing normal age-related physical changes in addition to those they undergo during their treatment for cancer, resulting in a variety of concerns and issues for them with regard to self-image, notes Nicolosi.

According to Indeck and Nicolosi, both programs are well-attended, and the feedback they receive from participants is always positive.

"Everyone loves it," says Indeck. "It truly helps in the most simple of ways: It helps participants not only feel better about how they look, but helps to improve their overall outlook as well."

'Look Your Best Basket at Yale'

Volunteers for the LYBBY program make regular visits to two inpatient oncology units at Yale-New Haven Hospital (Y-NHH) and two outpatient Yale clinics. On their rounds, they carry a wicker basket filled with lip balms, moisturizing creams, hats, caps, turbans and educational material to offer to male and female patients with cancer.

The volunteers encourage the patients to take from the basket whatever items would help them feel better, be it a knit cap to warm a suddenly bald head during the winter to some literature on how to tie a silk scarf in a variety of elegant ways. The basket is funded by the Yale-New Haven Hospital Auxiliary and the Yale Cancer Center, and all of the items they hold are offered free to the patients.

Ann Mattie, coordinator of the LYBBY program, says that patients frequently react to these offerings with a "deep appreciation."

"It really means a lot to them," she says. "They can have fun just picking out the color baseball hat they want or perusing the items in the basket while talking with the volunteers."

Like the "Look Good ... Feel Better" program, LYBBY is designed to help foster self-esteem in cancer patients experiencing changes to their appearance as a result of their treatment.

"Hair loss is really a big issue for many of the patients," says Mattie, "so much of what we offer in the basket addresses that problem."

Volunteers who participate in the program are trained by Y-NHH's Volunteer Services Department and are oriented by Mattie. They bring the basket to the units twice a week. As many as 50 people might utilize the baskets in one day.

Many of the volunteers are cancer survivors or have been touched by the disease through a family member or friend, according to Mattie, and thus can lend a supportive ear to the patients.

"In addition to bringing items that can ease the physical side effects of treatment, we are also just bringing encouragement and support to people going through a difficult time," Mattie says.

One of her volunteers has been committed to the program for six years, and two new volunteers who signed up to take part in the program for six months have enjoyed the work so much that they have extended their time.

"I think for all of us who do this work, it's nice to be able to do something that makes the patients feel better," comments Mattie.

The program has been so well appreciated that former patients and their family members often make donations to LYBBY as a way of saying thanks.

And not infrequently, Mattie and the LYBBY volunteers receive written notes from grateful patients.

"We do get to know some of the patients quite well," says Mattie, showing off a recent letter from two men who had become friends while undergoing treatment for lymphoma. The men wrote to express their gratitude for the baseball caps they had selected from the LYBBY basket.

"As you know, with this disease we get cold," the pair wrote in a thank-you card. They signed their note "The Sunshine Boys," a moniker they gave themselves and the nickname by which the LYBBY volunteers had come to know them.

In addition to these programs, the Yale Cancer Center offers a variety of other services to individuals with cancer, including patient education programs, support groups, cancer information and resources, counseling, and self-care teaching tools. Further information on these can be found at the center's website at http://info.med.yale.edu/ycc.

-- By Susan Gonzalez


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